Review of Everybody Writes by Ann Handley

Should you get your hands on a copy of Everybody Writes by Ann Handley?

Short answer? Yes.

For the slightly longer answer, read on.

Confession time: I’m not sure if I’m exactly the type of reader that Ann had in mind when she wrote this book. As best as I can tell, she wrote the book mainly for people who:

  • have a strong aversion to writing, but need to write in their professional lives
  • are what she affectionately terms “adult-onset” writers (in other words, people who were scarred by negative experiences and swore off writing for a decade or so)
  • lack confidence in their writing abilities and need a friendly guide to coach them through some of the basics

I, on the other hand:

  • have been obsessed with writing for as long as I can remember (My earliest masterpiece was some text I dictated to a preschool teacher to accompany one of my drawings. “This is a monster. He scared a ghost. The ghost scared the monster. Last night I saw a Dracula and three debils [sic].” Chilling commentary on the post-modern condition or a factual narrative of Halloween? You decide.)
  • have loved every English teacher I’ve ever had (perhaps with the exception of Mr. Page, a cranky old Englishman who wanted us to write down everything he said verbatim. “It took me years to compile all this information and you’re not writing it down! TAKE NOTES!” But even he had a certain charm…)
  • have devoted the majority of my career to writing and pretty much spend a good chunk of every workday writing and editing

And yet, I’m not too proud to say that I still have a lot to learn. Especially since I’m relatively new to this whole content marketing gig and at work I often get asked to write or edit things like marketing emails or landing pages (which were decidedly not on Mr. Page’s AP English syllabus).

Everybody Writes appeals to me because Ann strikes a perfect balance between informative, entertaining, and straight up hilarious.

In one of my favorite passages, she alters a quote from Mean Girls to make a point about high school-mandated writing styles:

“What you learned in high school might’ve once been a helpful guidepost. But it’s time to let go. As Janis says in the movie Mean Girls: ‘That’s the thing with five-paragraph essays. You think everybody is in love with them when actually everybody HATES them!’

Actually, Janis was talking about the school’s mean girls—The Plastics. Not essays. But same dif.”

Whether she’s offering tips on the difference between “bring” and “take,” a cool app that’ll prevent you from opening Facebook while you’re trying to draft your latest blog post, or just making a Tina Fey reference (because… why not?), Ann’s writing is clear and helpful. And friggin’ hilarious.

In Everybody Writes, Ann talks about having “pathological empathy” for your readers. Basically, you always want to think about what benefits they’ll get from reading whatever you’re writing. What’s in it for them? I love this concept. Because even though writing can feel like a very egotistical pursuit, if you leave it at that, most people won’t bother to read it.

So, in the interest of anyone who happens to be reading this, I’ll stop telling you why you should read Everybody Writes and just let you get on with it!

P.S. Do you have a long, boring commute? Do you get amped up about listening to audio books while going for a run? Or maybe you feel nostalgic for your childhood days when your parents would read to you? Whatever the case, there’s good news! Everybody Writes is now also available as an audio book on audible.com. Check out a little snippet of it here.

What I Learned at Content Marketing World

Awesome (4)

Things I knew about Cleveland before Content Marketing World:

  1. Liz Lemon loves it.
  2. Cleveland’s main export is crippling depression. (And every other “fact” that’s shared in this “hastily made tourism video” and this one.)

Things I know about Cleveland after attending Content Marketing World:

  1. It’s very warm in September (when you’re not in a heavily air-conditioned conference center all day.)
  2. The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame is awesome.
  3. Umm… see above?

So, yeah, the time I spent in Cleveland didn’t taught me too much about this city. But, on the plus side, my time at Content Marketing World has helped me learn a few things about content marketing and conference-going in general.

Here are my observations:

  • Personal connections matter

I observed this through my own experiences and the point was hammered home in Mark Schaefer‘s presentation on making Twitter your content marketing’s best friend. (In case you missed it, Mark talked at length about how Twitter is best used as a method for being authentically helpful and building real relationships.)

I’m new to the world of conferences (this is only the third that I’ve ever attended), and naturally shy, so I’m still trying to figure out the best way of making connections.

I’m slowly discovering that it’s helpful to have at least a few people you’d like to meet at a conference ahead of time. It makes it a little less intimidating if you set some specific goals.

Because I’m new to this, I set the bar pretty low—I had two San Francisco-based content marketers I wanted to meet (Is it silly that we had to wait until we were across the country to meet in person? Maybe a little, but hey, it worked…) and a few presenters I wanted to speak to at least briefly.

This helped take some of the scariness out of those empty blocks of networking times.

… but social media can help you be more social

I had contact information for one San Francisco content marketer, but only a Twitter handle for the other. So when we made plans to meet up, Twitter helped me get in touch and make sure everyone knew where to be and when.

It was also fun to see how everyone tweeted about our little meet up before and afterwards. So social media helped us connect, then meet in person, and then affirm that connection afterwards. I can also see us staying in touch via Twitter until the next content marketing event draws us to a new, exotic destination.

One of the speakers I was hoping to connect with was Ann Handley. I saw her present at the Copyblogger Authority Intensive back in May and started reading her latest book, Everybody Writes, so I was hoping to meet her briefly and get her autograph. (Yes, I’m a big nerd that way. Deal with it.)

Because I follow Ann on Twitter,  I saw that she was handing out goodies at Content Marketing World, so I tweeted to let her know that I was hoping to get her autograph.  She replied and we exchanged a few tweets, so when I actually met her in person, she kind of knew who I was! Social media helped me feel more comfortable being social in person.

If you’re shy like me, social media can be a great way of overcoming that initial hurdle and establishing some common ground with strangers so they don’t seem so… strange.

  • Don’t rely on the internet (always have a back-up)

Oh, boy, I’m going to do my best not to turn this into a rant. Let’s just say that the internet connection both at my hotel and in the conference center was… less than ideal.

There were numerous occasions where I just couldn’t get my phone or my laptop to connect to the internet, which meant that I couldn’t access email, Twitter, or Google docs.

I’m still trying to figure out my optimal note-taking and simultaneous social-sharing strategy, but I find that it’s easier to be more thorough with everything when I’m on my computer. And while I love Google docs when the internet is flowing smoothly, they make me want to pull my hair out any time I get that “Reconnecting” box (you know, the one that’s the color of a wan banana). I also kept getting a “Twitter has failed” message on my phone, which was painfully accurate.

Thank goodness for my local version of Evernote on my desktop, which pretty much saved the day. Every. Single. Time.

What am I trying to say here? Always have a back-up.

  • It’s a big, bad world out there, and I only understand a sliver of it

I’ve been working as a content marketer for a year and a half, so this is a field that is still relatively new to me.

Some of the sessions felt a little too large for me—either the speakers had bigger budgets, more buzzwords, or heftier teams to handle all the tasks and initiatives they discussed.

Copyblogger‘s Brian Clark and Jerod Morris used the analogy of TV/film and expounded on the importance of having a producer, a director, and talent to lead your content marketing team. This was both inspiring and intimidating.

Other presenters talked about their comprehensive, all-encompassing content and social strategies or the projects they’ve accomplished with tens of thousands of dollars (or more).

And others just baffled me with terminology and concepts I’d never heard of before.

But I’ll take a cue here from Jerod and his concept of “Primility” (pride + humility). At this stage in my career, the whole point of attending these conferences is to learn, so I absolutely should find myself experiencing moments where I feel out of my depth. That’s why I’m there—to expand my mind (or melt my face, as Jason Miller so colorfully put it).

I’m happy I had the opportunity to see so many talented presenters (and watch adorable kitten videos—thank you, Shafqat Islam for introducing me to BuzzFeed and Friskies’ Dear Kitten). And I feel both humbled and inspired by all the sessions I attended and people I spoke with.

Were you at Content Marketing World? What were some of the lessons that stood out to you?

Or, do you have any tips on how to make the most of your time at a conference? Drop me a line in the comments!